I teach and write about the literary and intellectual history of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, often in connection with continental (especially French) cultural phenomena. My first book, Light without Heat: The Observational Mood from Bacon to Milton (Cornell University Press; publication date: June 15, 2018), offers a new account of the intimacy of literature and science in this period, exploring the shared interest of natural philosophers and poets in the epistemological and ethical consequences of carelessness and other forms of casual indifference. By describing experiences of minimal feeling that are neither repressive nor illusory, neither achievements of self-discipline nor self-serving fabrications, my protagonists disclose an unfamiliar conception of scientific dispassion. For Boyle, Marvell, Milton, and others, "nonchalance" intensifies receptivity and draws out the world’s hidden properties. I have also written a freestanding essay, "Milton's Panorama: Paradise Regained in the Age of Critique," that further develops my thinking about indifference as it bears on the practice of literary criticism.
I am at work on a second book project, tentatively titled Switch Points: Sex, Laughter, and Skepticism before Enlightenment, which develops an account of the relationship between violence and comedy in early modern culture. I use the issue of cruel laughter to better understand the role of gender hierarchy, misogyny, erotic life, and sexuality in Renaissance comic traditions--from jest books and satirical fictions to stage comedies and philosophical treatises. I also make an argument about the relevance of philosophical skepticism to the interpretation of comic violence. I have developed some of these ideas in (1) an essay published in Critical Inquiry on schadenfreude and laughter in Montaigne and Laurent Joubert; and (2) an essay forthcoming in Studies in Philology about vicious pranks in Rabelais and Shakespeare.
Early modernity is the focus but not the horizon of my research, which takes up issues that connect (and divide) past and present: the history of science and technology; the history of the passions (including the history of sexuality); rhetoric, hermeneutics, and other strands of Renaissance “literary theory”; Reformation theology; Marxian historiography and social theory; and the history of piety.
My ongoing teaching commitments are to Shakespeare, Milton, the literature of the seventeenth century, the history of philosophy, literature and science, and the history and theory of sexuality.
2017-18 courses: : Science and Fiction: From Milton to the Moon Landing; Advanced Theories of Gender and Sexuality
Other recently taught courses: Writing the Cosmos: Milton's Paradise Lost; Shakespeare 1: Histories and Comedies
- Light without Heat: The Observational Mood from Bacon to Milton (Cornell University Press in spring, 2018)
- "Vicious Pranks: Comedy and Cruelty in Rabelais and Shakespeare," Studies in Philology (forthcoming)
- "The Anatomy of Schadenfreude; or, Montaigne's Laughter," Critical Inquiry 43 (Winter, 2017)
- “Andrew Marvell and the Epistemology of Carelessness,” English Literary History 82.2 (August, 2015)
- Review: Raymond Waddington, "Looking into Providences: Designs and Trials in Paradise Lost," Modern Philology 112.1 (August, 2014)
PhD, University of California, Berkeley, 2012. Teaching at Chicago since 2012.